IN 2012 I was working with one of the regular Papua New Guinean contributors to PNG Attitude editing and tracking down a publisher for a book he had written.
I saw Kela Kapkora Sil Bolkin’s The Flight of Galkope as a significant historical and anthropological contribution to the understanding of Papua New Guinean society. Beyond that it was a work entirely researched and written by a Papua New Guinean.
I thought that it brought a new perspective to the study of society in the country separate but complementary to the more academic works hitherto mostly written by expatriates.
Sil had collected the material for the book over several years by walking through his Galkope homeland in Simbu Province talking to those surviving elders from the men’s houses who would otherwise have taken their knowledge with them when they passed on.
When the text had been edited I approached Tony Crawford, who published books about Papua New Guinea, principally by Australian authors, under his Crawford House imprint.
I had known Tony for many years and had spent time with him and his wife Jenny at Balimo, in Western province, when he was researching material for his monumental work, Aida, on the Gogodala carvers of the Aramia River area.
We also had a connection through Graeme Pretty, the Curator of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum who had been instrumental in setting up the National Museum and Art Gallery in Port Moresby. Tony read the manuscript and agreed to publish it.
Up to that point my experience in publishing had been limited to sending manuscripts to publishers, reading the proofs they sent back and then letting them do all the hard work of preparing it for publication.
Like many writers the day you sent off the manuscript was the day you heaved a huge sigh of relief. With Tony I became aware of all the difficulties publishers in Australia experience, particularly in dealing with printers.
In those days most book printing jobs went overseas, either to India, China or Singapore. Printers in Australia, as they remain today, are prohibitively expensive, especially for books like Sil’s that would not have a large print run.
We worked to a deadline of sorts but this was constantly being pushed back, much to the chagrin of both me and Sil. The printers in China, where the book went, took their own sweet time knowing that Tony had no other real options.
As it turned out we had a book launch at the Papua New Guinea High Commission in Canberra with only a couple of copies of the competed book on hand, the rest had been held up coming through customs.
The experience brought home the frustrations involved in book publishing. We had experienced similar problems with both the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Crocodile Prize Anthology, which had only arrived at the awards ceremonies in the nick of time.
On those occasions we had used Birdwing Publishing, one of the few publishing agents in Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately they too had their books printed overseas, this time in Singapore.
In the process of investigating possible alternatives to this merry-go-round I came across the vanity publishers operating in Australia. These companies specialised in self-published works and made their money charging the authors for a service rather than collecting profits from retail sales.
I discovered that they sometimes charged outrageous rates, ranging between AU$5-30,000 for a book. Significantly, I discovered that many Australian authors writing about Papua New Guinea used them, as did a number of authors in Papua New Guinea.
Of those examples I obtained it was clear that they spent little time editing or helping the writers to improve their work. Their mode of operation seemed to be to produce a visually attractive cover and binding but to ignore the quality of the content inside.
Of those examples I saw most were full of typographical errors, paragraphs inexplicably repeated to no rhyme or reason and grammatical and spelling errors galore. I thought that it might be wise to warn the PNG Attitude readers about these predator publishers and wrote an article setting out the traps.
The article garnered a surprising response, many of which outlined regrettable experiences at the hands of these publishers.
Among the emails I received was one from Keith Dahlberg, a retired American missionary doctor who had worked in Asia and Papua New Guinea and was now spending his time writing crime fiction. At the time I was reviewing his Papua New Guinea based novel The Samara Incident. Keith Dahlberg advised:
Amazon.com has a new project called CreateSpace, which will help you set up your book and cover for free. Publishing it on Kindle is also free.
I have a nephew who just published this way; he paid about US$6 for a proof copy, and says that was his only expense. I am looking at it as a publisher for Gold. It is on the web on Amazon.com. The paperback copy he sent me looks good.
Some of these self-publishing companies will actually charge you to put things on Amazon and Kindle - don't be fooled.
The reference to Gold was about Keith's next book, South Pacific Gold which is about mining in PNG and which I also reviewed.
It took a while to master the CreateSpace process but when that was done I had found a cost effective way of producing the next edition of the Crocodile Prize Anthology and enabling Papua New Guinean writers to get their work published.
The days of having boxes of unsold books mouldering away in sheds or on remainder tables of bookshops looked like a thing of the past with CreateSpace's print-on-demand technology.